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Hank Zauderer
My Classical Notes, December 2014

Throughout…Sokolov’s music kept me enthralled with its extraordinary intensity as I sensed the formidable physical, pianistic, musical and emotional presence of this most amazing artist.

Sokolov is an extremely meticulous pianist; his overall results are powerful, sensitive and expressive readings. © 2014 My Classical Notes Read complete review

Colin Clarke
MusicWeb International, February 2011

This is a rare opportunity to savour the art of Grigory Sokolov, that most reclusive of pianists. A Barbican recital in May 2006 furnished the only opportunity I personally have had of hearing him—and what a revelation it was, too.

The trio of Beethoven Sonatas is perfectly chosen: the Op. 14 set complements the Op. 28 perfectly. How many amateur pianists, I wonder, have slaved over the E-Major from Op. 14, aiming at full evenness in the interlocking third semiquavers in the first movement and, like myself, failed miserably—at least in comparison to Sokolov. There is an element of rescuing these sonatas from an undeserved reputation as teaching pieces so that they can take their rightful place as a part of the canon. Sokolov lavishes much love on the first movement of the E-Major. The central Allegretto movement of the sonata is no mere dashed-off interlude. It, too, has care upon care heaped upon it, to revelatory effect. Note the way Sokolov links the two-octave leaps between the “E”s in a miraculous way, or the way his scales are things of pearly, even beauty in the finale. The second sonata of the pair, the G-Major, here holds a first movement of the utmost burnished lyricism. Bruno Monsaingeon’s camera angles, fully entwined with the music itself, and Sokolov’s beloved low lighting highlight the sense of intimacy here. Sokolov’s touch in the central movement of the G-Major is infinitely varied, his depth of sound entirely in keeping with his conception and used to contrast with the most fantastical staccatos. Sokolov now takes my first recommendation in these pieces - previously reserved for Backhaus.

The serenity of Beethovenian D-Major pervades the first movement of Sokolov’s “Pastorale” sonata. The Andante is a lesson in fine piano technique, with the wonderfully legato right hand against perfectly judged left hand staccati resulting in a magnificent Beethoven processional. Musicality is all here—it is only in retrospect that one allows oneself the time to gawp at Sokolov’s even left hand in the third movement. At the time, one is completely engrossed in Beethoven’s fascinating musical surface. And that, surely, is how it should be. The finale is slower than most—more a recollection of shepherds piping than the pipes themselves. Ashkenazy in his early Decca account was most definitely in the opposing latter camp, for example. The coda is stunning, and, for once, not a mad romp to the finishing line.

The cheers that greet Sokolov after the final Beethoven Sonata are more those that one would associate with end of recital delirium. Quite rightly, though. This is Beethoven playing of the very first rank. Every note, every phrase is to be cherished. Not only that, Sokolov’s realisation of and delineation of musical structure is exemplary and he is one of the few musicians that can marry that to exquisite surface detail.

The three Beethoven Sonatas provided the first half of the recital and were given without a break for applause. The second part opened with the Komitas Dances, an idiosyncratic choice in which Sokolov fully presented the inherent melancholy of these pieces from Armenia. Close-up shots of Sokolov’s face show his clear involvement and concentration. The piano is perfectly tuned—the overall result is mesmerising.

For the Prokofiev Seventh Sonata, it is Pollini who has for long held my affections (DG). Sokolov matches Pollini in animalistic, elemental ferocity but includes more moments of bitter-sweet lyricism. Again, this reading goes to the top of my tree. Sokolov’s mastery of staccato comes into its own here. Note also how Monsaingeon’s use of a distant camera can emphasise the loneliness of this music’s slower portions. The intensity of the slow movement’s climax is monumental. If Sokolov does not quite equal Polini’s cumulative effect in the finale, it is a close thing indeed. The standing ovation is no surprise—neither is the quantity and quality of the encores. The Chopin Mazurkas actually sandwich the Couperin items. Sokolov’s Chopin is twilit magic, his Couperin a ray of adroitly-turned daylight. The final encore is a Bach/Siloti Prelude. Sokolov’s articulation is perfectly clean, but it is the serenity that makes the performance glow that is most memorable. The perfect way to end.

Peter Joelson
Audiophile Audition, November 2009

Grigory Sokolov was born in Leningrad in 1950 and at the age of 16 in 1966 was awarded the Gold Medal in the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition, and although he has been a very busy recitalist he has not had much love for the recording studio.  Difficulties with touring in recent years have limited his appearances to Europe, though not the UK in 2008 and 2009 due to its draconian visa requirements.  Two sets of five CDs are currently available on the Naïve label at budget price, and they are now joined by this DVD of a complete recital filmed in 2002 by Bruno Monsaingeon.

Sokolov prepares a recital programme which he gives through the year; in 2002, his recitals opened with three sonatas by Beethoven played with hardly a break between them. The depth of tone he achieves is remarkable; whether pianissimo or fortissimo the focus of the sound remains sharp.  And there are no distorting effects made for cheap interpretation, either.  The listener is left feeling this is how Beethoven should sound, and judging by the reaction of the Paris audience, they were mightily impressed. Beethoven playing does not come better than this.

After the intermission he played Komitas Vardapet’s Six Dances for Piano, eighteen minutes or so of quietly effective music. Vardapet (1869–1935) was an Armenian composer of Turkish birth and these peaceful dances belie the horrendous anguish the composer was to suffer later. Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata is a huge contrast, spiky writing scintillatingly played, and pianistic power on show, again without overplaying the instrument.

Sokolov’s encores have included earlier composers, for example Froberger, Byrd and Rameau, as well as Bach and Couperin heard here. The two Couperin pieces impress with their fragile delicacy, Sokolov’s command of the keyboard breathtaking in these miniatures. The two Chopin Mazurkas are finely played, too, with expert give and take. The recital ends with a Siloti arrangement of Bach’s BWV855a.

Filming was done on the understanding it would not impinge on the pianist whatsoever, so with minimal lighting much as Richter liked to have, and few cameras, Monsaingeon’s expertise is impressive with its simplicity. Sound quality, in stereo only, is excellent; on the occasions one wants to listen and not watch it is easy to let the DVD load and then press “play” much as one would do with a CD.

Now that Gilels, Michelangeli and Richter are no longer with us, Grigory Sokolov must be considered as the greatest living artist of his instrument, a superb musician whose programmes inspire and reward his audiences like few others. This film belongs in every piano enthusiast’s collection and will reward undiminished with repeated listening and watching. Truly, Sokolov deserves his description as a giant of the keyboard.

Paul Orgel
Fanfare, November 2009

This is a film of a piano recital that Grigory Sokolov gave at the Theatre des Champs-Élysées. It is directed by Bruno Monsaingeon, who is well known for his films of Glenn Gould and the fascinating documentary Richter, the Enigma. In the DVD booklet, Monsaingeon suggests that with Michelangeli, Gould, and Richter no longer alive, Sokolov may be the “greatest living pianist.” I usually dismiss this kind of hyperbole as meaningless hype, but after seeing this recital, I am not so sure that he doesn’t have a point. Sokolov won the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1966 at the age of 16. His career hasn’t followed a conventional path, and Monsaingeon implies that Sokolov is less than world famous because he has not allowed more than a handful of his recordings—all live performances, as he objects to the studio—to be released, and because he is generally secretive and eccentric.

There are some unconventional features to the recital. A large man, Sokolov sits high on a flat-platformed modern seat, not the traditional concert bench, and plays with very high, curved fingers. The stage is dimly lit (as with Richter’s concerts in his later years). The three early Beethoven sonatas that open the program are played with no break between them. The tempos that Sokolov chooses in the finale movement of the Beethoven “Pastorale” and the Prokofiev Seventh are slower than the norm. The 20-minute set of dances by the Armenian composer Komitas Vardapet (1869–1935) that follows the Beethoven is an unusual programming choice.

But any impression of eccentricity can be put aside once Sokolov’s Beethoven begins. He brings in an extraordinary range of color to the two “easy” op. 14 sonatas with tastefully applied rhythmic freedom, an uncommonly full dynamic range, and great variety of articulation. His playing is never arbitrarily quirky or self-indulgent (as Gould’s could be), and he allows himself to savor details without sacrificing a sense of the music’s larger structure. The sense of self-denying purity that straightjackets some of Richter’s performances is not part of Sokolov’s playing, nor is the occasional willful display of technique for its own sake á la Argerich or Horowitz. He seems able to identify with a huge range of musical moods. Just listen to how he plays the humorous middle movement of op. 14/2, with a huge variety of non-legato and legato touches, with every voice perfectly gauged. I am particularly impressed by Sokolov’s ability to find dynamics within the middle range, not just loud and soft extremes, and tempos that serve the music without exaggeration.

Komitas’s subtle Six Dances comes across not as a concert showpiece but as a careful transcription of Armenian folk music. The dances are in slow to moderate tempos and feature long, sinuous melody lines with occasional, sparse harmony added. Sokolov plays them with exquisite shape and trancelike concentration, but because there are so few contrasts between the dances, I must confess that I found them monotonous after a while.

Sokolov’s galvanic performance of Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata gives the first two movements a particularly exciting narrative quality. The final movement’s Precipitato, taken at a very deliberate pace, becomes more than a showy toccata. It acquires a sense of seriousness that links it to the Sonata’s other movements.

The encores comprise a magnificent, small recital of their own, and show sides of Sokolov’s playing not represented in the formal program. He plays quite a bit of early keyboard music, including the French clavecinistes, the English virginalists, Froberger, and Bach’s Art of Fugue. The high point of the entire concert may be his performance of Couperin’s difficult perpetual motion piece, Le Tic-Toc Choc, a tour de force of hand crossing that has to be seen to be appreciated. This is a technical feat that creates musical joy. Two late Chopin mazurkas are played with great freedom, and highlighting of subtle details. The first is the familiar op. 63/3, with its remarkable imitative writing at the end, and the second is Chopin’s last completed work, halting and almost unbearably melancholy. Sokolov is perfectly attuned to the understated pathos and subtle mood changes in this music. He is a master musician whom anyone interested in great piano playing should see and hear; here is the chance.

Paul Orgel
Fanfare, November 2009

Grigory Sokolov’s…large-scale conceptions are full of distinctive ideas and he revels in what the piano can do, but he always manages to honor both the letter and the spirit of the music…

To read the complete review, please visit Fanfare online.

Robert Cummings
Classical Net, August 2009

Two pianists, one an experienced virtuoso known for his precision and interpretive acumen, and the other a recent major competition winner (the Queen Elizabeth, from 2007) who has all the attributes to become one of the leading pianists of her generation. Both come from the former USSR and both share the Prokofiev 7th in common on their recordings, which are otherwise almost totally dissimilar in repertory. Under such circumstances, can a winner be declared? Maybe.

Grigori Sokolov is stylistically quite similar to Maurizio Pollini: both possess big techniques and are rather straightforward interpretively, rarely imposing their personalities on the music before them. Sokolov delivers a knock-out Prokofiev 7th, giving it an epic bigness, a sense of drama that only a few other pianists have conveyed so convincingly before. Bernd Glemser, on Naxos, and Boris Berman, on Chandos, have given us powerful accounts of this work, as have Pollini and Barry Douglas. Vinnitskaya presents a frenetic Prokofiev 7th, a performance brimming with anxiety and crushing momentum. But her tempos tend to be a shade too fast, especially in the outer panels. Still, her account is convincing and may well have wide appeal. For instance, her second movement (Andante caloroso) is almost two minutes faster than Sokolov’s, and has a greater sense of flow. Sokolov here is a little finicky, perhaps a tad too measured. Still, Sokolov has a better Prokofiev 7th in my book.
Elsewhere on his DVD, the three Beethoven sonatas are all given splendid readings, readings that can compete with almost any others that I’ve heard – and I’ve heard more than I can remember. The other pieces on the disc, the Chopin Mazurkas, the two Couperin numbers, the Bach Prelude and the Vardapet Dances, are treated to the same precision and interpretive insight. The camera work and sound are excellent. The Sokolov disc gets an easy recommendation.

Vinnitskaya turns in a fairly fleet Rachmaninov 2nd Sonata. It’s hard to compare her with the old Cliburn, for example, since Cliburn was hampered by horrible sound reproduction. Thibaudet has a fine reading on Decca, but the Vinnitskaya can hold its own against most, maybe all comers. Her Sonata Reminiscenza is played with feeling and with less a sense to link Medtner to Rachmaninov. The Gubaidulina Chaconne is a jarring dissonant work of nine minutes which Vinnitskaya delivers with utter conviction. I doubt this work will enjoy a better recording any time soon. Vinnitskaya’s disc was already given a Diapason d’Or award from the prestigious French publication Diapason. Her CD also merits a strong recommendation.

So there you have it. Oh, who wins? Hmmm…I would give Sokolov a very slim edge. Very slim. But of course, both discs are eminently worth purchase.

John Terauds
Toronto Star, June 2009

Think of 59-year-old Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov as the anti-Glenn Gould: he refuses to play anything but live recitals, and what few recordings are out there are from live concerts. He is nothing short of remarkable, playing with a combination of awesome technique and controlled power. He gave a concert at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in the fall of 2002 that has become one of those legendary performances that those people present remember for the rest of their lives. Fortunately, Sokolov allowed filmmaker Bruno Monsaingeon to capture it on film. The only spots of colour on the otherwise black screen come from Sokolov’s hands, the white keyboard and his shock of grey hair. It only helps put even more focus on the Technicolor music: from Couperin and Bach (in a fascinating modern arrangement) to magical Beethoven, intimate Chopin and a mesmerizing performance of the Sonata No. 7 by Sergei Prokofiev. This is a DVD to treasure. There are no extras.

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8:29:46 AM, 31 July 2015
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